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Bipartisan group makes plea to delay flood insurance hikes

12th August 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writer

Biggert-Waters will affect cities across the nation. Fifty percent of the nation lives near a coastline. If you include rivers and lakes, the number jumps to eighty percent. By applying the logic of the 2012
Biggert-Waters Act, most of the residents of the nation could see massive increases in flood insurance, even if their homes have never flooded.
Gridlock ended over flood insurance rate increases.

Most of Southeast Louisiana’s senior elected officials drove down the coast on a white bus on Thursday, touring Louisiana’s flood protection infrastructure, with one purpose—to convince Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Associate Administrator David Miller to delay implementation of the Biggert-Waters Act, and stop massive flood insurance rate increases from devastating coastal Louisiana communities.

To fight the increases U.S .Senator Mary Landrieu stood beside her GOP rival for the U.S. Senate next year, Cong. Bill Cassidy. African-American Democratic St. John President Natalie Robottom made common cause with Republicans Sen. David Vitter and 1st District Cong. Steve Scalise as well as her fellow GOP Parish Presidents, St. James’ “Timmy” Roussel, St. Tammany’s Pat Brister, Plaquemines’ Billy Nungesser, St. Charles’ VJ St. Pierre, Lafourche’s Charlotte Randolph, and Jefferson’s John Young.

And, Young was quick to note that the Act in question “is not just a Louisiana problem. Biggert-Waters will affect cities across the nation.”

“Fifty percent of the nation lives near a coastline,” the Jefferson President continued. “If you include rivers and lakes, the number jumps to 80 percent. By applying the logic of the 2012 Biggert-Waters Act, most of the residents of the nation could see massive increases in flood insurance, even if their homes have never flooded.”

The legislation, which reauthorized and made substantive changes to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), phases out grandfathering and subsidized flood insurance rates. This termination out of the grandfather clause will result in properties that were legally built according to all applicable codes at that time now being considered out of compliance. For some families, flood insurance premiums would jump to more than $28,000 per year, even though their homes have never flooded.

Thanks to mortgage regulations that require flood coverage for a loan, that could lead to a cascade effect of personal bankruptcies and entire communities where homes become worthless for resale. And, not just in the Gulf Coast region.

“This is as much about New York as it is New Orleans,” Young said. Parts of Gotham’s boroughs lie below the new FEMA basic flood elevations—as do many communities up the East Coast and throughout the Great Lakes regions where one rarely thinks that floodwaters pose a danger.

Thursday morning, Miller joined several parish presidents and Landrieu on a helicopter tour of local flood protection infrastructure.

In the afternoon, Landrieu and Miller joined officials from 23 parishes and representatives from the banking, real estate and home building associations for a forum on flood insurance sponsored by GNO INC. Parish officials had an opportunity to speak directly with Mr. Miller about the National Flood Insurance Program, the mapping process and reform legislation.

At the press conference late Thursday at One Canal Place, Young thanked, “Mr. Miller for coming down here,” and then added, that the Biggert-Waters Act “if allowed to go unchecked and unamended…will be more catastrophic than every major natural disaster put together.”

“This will be a freight train,” the Jeff Parish President continued, begging Miller, “We need to delay implementation.”

The FEMA Associate Admini­strator shot down any such delay, however. Noting he had learned a great deal, Miller promised that the 100-year levees and other coastal protections will be brought under some consideration, and “if we haven’t mapped they (the rates) won’t go up.”

Over 280 projects were not included in the initial rate schedules, and are being evaluated, he said, observing, “How that affects the rates, we have to do the maps, we have to do the science.” But, he was quick to make no promise to delay the Act, “If we stop the implementation of Biggert-Waters we stop the good things that are in there.”

Miller did comment that FEMA’s answer is to usually move communities to higher, safer ground, but that “what struck me here is that relocation is not an Option. People have to live and work in their communities.”

That admission stands as a major advance over the Federal Agency’s past responses that the Flood Insurance rate increases will render the coastal towns unaffordable for their residents.

Sen. Landrieu, though, seemed exasperated by the notion that relocation was even still under consideration at this late date, declaring, “Dave, we understand risk. We’ve lived here for 300 years. The federal government is increasing our risk. And we have retreated as far as we are going to retreat. We’re not retreating any further.”

The Senator went on to say, “I don’t think any other state in America has been as disrupted by the federal government as ours.” Citing the dredging of the Mississippi River “which prevented the overflow of sediment that kept wetlands upgraded,” MRGO which “ate away St. Bernard,” and then the construction of an oil and gas infrastructure that further devastated the coast line, Landrieu noted, “When we ask for just a piece of the revenues to repair the damage, we were told no.”

Louisiana has assumed all of the risk for years, with little remuneration for the damage, she said, all the while “the river provides commerce for everyone in the nation and the world…[and] our residents are holding on by their fingernails to the high ridges as our marshes go away.”

“And, now you want us to assume all of the risk” for a flooding problem that we did little to create. “They made our risk go up and up…and now they want us to pay for it,” the Senator lamented, still “hop[ing] Mr. Miller’s visit has given him a much-needed, firsthand view of the local flood protection infrastructure our communities have built. FEMA’s current flood rate maps don’t take into account our local efforts and this visit is integral in helping us get the credit we deserve.”

Reggie Dupre, executive director of the Terrebonne Levee and Conservation District added, “It’s past time for FEMA to acknowledge our investments in local flood protection. We’ve done the work, we’ve put the money in, and we should get credit for it on flood maps.”

Plaquemines’ Billy Nungesser warned that “This will destroy coastal Louisiana,” and, he added, “It’s not just us…California doesn’t know what’s coming.

“Our job here to help with the education process in all 50 states.” St. James’ Timmy Roussel expanded, “They don’t know that this will put families out of their homes.”

“What we need is real information; real data to take to other parts of the country,” St Tammany’s Pat Brister echoed, “so they know what’s coming”.

Rep. Bill Cassidy put it simply, “Past is prologue. What Louisiana endures harkens for the rest of the country, and they need to figure it out before it’s too late.”

This article originally published in the August 12, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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